House Republicans Keep Promise on Health Care Repeal, Step Back from Others

But Republican pledges to 'cut-as-you-go' and grant open debate are tabled.

ByDevin Dwyer
January 07, 2011, 1:44 PM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7, 2011— -- House Republicans, in power for less than one week, appear poised to make good on their high-profile promise to vote to repeal the new health care reform law.

Legislation for repeal cleared a procedural hurdle Friday, setting the stage for a final up-or-down vote next week.

But in advancing the measure, Republicans also seemed to step back from other high-profile promises made in the Pledge to America, the document which outlines their intended governing agenda.

The Republican pledge decries the Democrats' record of forbidding amendments and open debate on costly legislation, and promises to "let any lawmaker -- Democrat or Republican -- offer amendments to reduce spending" on spending bills.

Yet, rules approved Thursday for floor debate on the repeal measure preclude any amendments, blocking Democrats from forcing votes on individual aspects of the behemoth law.

"This is nothing but a gag rule," said New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of the strict rules.

But House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday there was no need for amendments or debate. "I promised a more open process, I didn't promise that every single bill was going to be an open bill," he told reporters.

Text of the "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act" also appears to leave unfulfilled a much-touted GOP pledge to include a "clause citing the specific constitutional authority upon which the bill is justified."

There is no mention of the Constitution in the two-paragraph bill, though an explanation is noted in the official Congressional Record.

GOP promises to do whatever it takes to slash the federal budget deficit also seemed to take a hit this week when the Congressional Budget Office estimated that repeal of the health care law would cost $230 billion over the next decade.

Republicans have promised to "cut-as-you-go," pairing estimated spending increases with cuts to offset the cost. The repeal measure includes no offsets to the CBO's estmated cost.

House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday he believes the CBO, a nonpartisan group long considered by both parties to be an impartial referee on budget matters, was manipulated by Democrats to produce a false estimate of savings in the health care reform law.

GOP Defends Handling of Repeal

"I do not believe that repealing the job-killing health care law will increase the deficit," Boehner told reporters. "CBO can only provide a score based on the assumptions that are given to them. And if you go back and look at the health care bill and the assumptions that were given to them, you see all of the double-counting that went on..."

He and other Republican leaders have brushed aside the criticism of their handling of the repeal measure emphasizing that it is a special exception to their rules, necessitating no additional hearings or modification other than a vote.

"There is nothing to amend to the repeal bill. Either we're going to wipe the slate clean and start fresh or we're not," said Republican Rep. David Drier of California. "Once that slate is completely wiped clean, we will be ready for this open and collaborative process to develop the real solutions we promised."

Drier, who chairs the House Rules Committee, also pointed out that the committee meetings on the health care repeal were televised this week, making the proceedings more transparent.

But Boehner's comments on the CBO drew sharp criticism from Democrats who said dismissing the independent analysis sets a "dangerous precedent."

"When you don't like the call on the field, it's not part of the rules of the game that you throw the referee off the field and substitute your judgment," Maryland Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, told reporters Thursday. "We can argue about the policy impacts, but we shouldn't be arguing about the facts."

ABC News' Huma Khan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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